Bark Melanope - The Ship of Romance and Death - Part Two

The sailors who remained with the ship became superstitious and the tales and legends surrounding the Melanope grew.  In the nighttime gloom of the sea, they would declare that they saw by the dim light of the moon, the shadow of the former mistress of the bark floating along in front as if trying to lead it far away from the material world.  

Whenever the wind howled through the rigging or the sails flapped and whispered in the breeze they swore they heard her voice along with the deeper tones of Captain Craigen. Some say they could faintly sometimes hear laughter, and the lively music of Miss Taylor playing the painoforte wafting faintly on the wind. Afterwards, whenever the Melanope made port, it was not uncommon for sailors to desert the ship claiming it haunted. 

The Melanope then sat idle for a time at the Union-street wharf and all that remained of Captain Craigen, and Miss Taylor sat silent. A couple coats hung side-by-side on a rusty nail, the marks of dainty fingers still remained on the ivory keys of the pianoforte, and there were cases full of novels -- English novels, mostly shockers -- German Novels, French novels, all plentifully dog-eared and bearing evidence of being read over and over again. As the Melanope languished, barnacles and seaweed began to attach themselves to the hull, and iron rust marks appeared on her sides, while the fate of the lofty ship sailed full speed in to the courts.

The Melanope dubbed the ship of "Romance and Death"
sat idle at a San Francisco Pier while her fate remained in the hands of the courts.

(San Francisco Call, 7-SEP-1900)

At the end of November, the Melanope was sold at auction. Perhaps because of her reputation, and perhaps because she was still a fine ship, the Melanope commanded the largest amount of money ever paid for a vessel sold by the courts in the City of San Francisco at the time of her sale -- $53,900.

The bidding was quite heated between, Mr. Rosenfeld, George W. Hume and J.J. Moore. When Rosenfeld made the $53,000 offer, J.J. Moore and Co. declined to go any higher. The question of a raise was then given to George W. Hume.

"Give me a cigar and I'll stop bidding," Hume said to Rosenfeld, turning with a jocular air to his friend.

"No, I'll be hanged if I will, " replied Rosenfeld. "This is the last cigar that I have." And calmly he took the coveted article from his pocket, lit it and began his smoke, puffing great blue aromatic clouds that circled about his head.

"Fifty-three thousand one hundred! " sung out Hume.
Rosenfeld look at Hume, took a couple more puffs, and muttered, "Two Hundred"
"Three hundred, not a penny more!" demanded Hume, with his best poker-face.
Rosenfeld looked him, and grinned, "Make it four hundred!"

The bidding had taken on a feverish pitch, as the two friends and rivals compeated against each other for the fine ship. It had become more than business, and it was now a personal competition of wealth, status, and daring. The auctioneer was so astonished he could barely speak.

One bid came right after another, with each friend raising the ante.

"Eight-hundred" said Rosenfeld.
"I'll raise that fifty", retorted Hume.
"Your kicking me in the knees, George! Nine-hundred!" replied Rosenfeld.

Hume looked at him, and shook his head. He wouldn't go any higher. 

"Sold!" said the auctioneer. 

"That was a good price you paid for that cigar," quipped Hume tauntingly.

"But I tell you George," replied Rosenfeld, as he took a couple long victorious puffs letting the smoke waft through the air, "its an awfully damn good cigar!"

The second largest amount for a vessel, $43,225 was paid some years prior for a steamer, the Willamette Valley. The money was divvied up between the parties, two percent to the public adminstrators and the government, $6,300 went to the sailors wages, and the rest was fought over in the courts between the estates of John Craigen and Miss Taylor.

Under the new ownership of John Rosenfeld's Sons company, the Melanope was hauled out at the Spear-street drydock and the encrusted barnacles, and growth were scraped off, and she was cleaned up in Bristol fashion. Just before Christmas, in ship-shape condition she came to the pier head, and at that point, she was sold to J.J. Moore and Company. It is rumoured Rosenfield made quite a good profit.

The Melanope came under the capable command of Captain Leighton Robinson who sailed her out of the harbor on Sunday January 21st, 1901 bound for Sydney, Australia with merchandise. The Bear flag of California proudly flew from her mizzen mast in honor of California's anniversary and was her prize for being the best decorated vessel in September.

His wife, Kate Zaun Robinson, who was a native of California sailed with him, and became the vessel's mascot.  Once again the Melanope was the "Ship Of Romance" as Captain Leighton and Kate Robinson had just been married in the prior year and were spending their honeymoon aboard the ship Melanope from San Francisco to Sydney.


1st Bear Flang California
The 1st Bear Flag of the State of California (1854-1911)
flew from the mizzen of the Melanope
on January 21st, 1901

Captain Robinson was evey inch a sailor, from the time he shipped out of his native Cornwall, England, at the age of fourteen as a cadet on the HMS Conway, a training ship, the sea was his life. Three years later, at seventeen, he made his first deep sea voyage in 1889 on a trip from England to San Francisco, via Cape Horn, on the four-masted windjammer the Crown of Denmark. As much as he  loved San Francisco, he decided to continue the seafaring life and for the next eleven years he sailed to many parts of the world and those years were crowded with exciting and colorful events.

Robinson a capable sailor, rose from sea cadet to captain, gaining a world-wide reputation as a seaman. He later was deputy ship commissioner for the Port of San Francisco for 36 years.

When no longer skippering his own ships, “Cappy” Robinson was the hand on the helm for Marin County youths who might otherwise have gone astray. Those who sailed under him on his yacht, White Heather, recall that he never spoke in anything else but a “quarterdeck voice,” although the craft was only 40 feet long.

Robinson was also involved with the scouting movement and was one of the founders of the Mill Valley Boy Scout Council in the days of scouting’s inception. The local council gave way later to the Marin County Council, of which he was a long-time board member. He was heavily involved in Sea Scouting. In San Francisco, he was even active in leadership of the Girl Mariners, a girl scout sea organization. 
In 1900, he was in San Francisco and Miss Kate Zaun now comes into the story. At the time, she was in her early 20s. Born in California, she was of first generation German descent. A captain of a sailing ship berthed in San Francisco had invited her and another guest, Mate Leighton Robinson to dinner on board. The friendship formed at this shipboard dinner party led to an engagement between Miss Zaun and Mate Robinson. At about this time, J.J. Moore offered command of the Melanope to Robinson to skipper a voyage to Sydney, carrying a cargo of general mechandise and lumber. He accepted, providing his new bride could accompany him, and the shipowner agreed.
"Cappy" Robinson and his wife on their honeymoon in the Melanope set a world sailing record that stands today, from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia  arriving in just 41 days. 
Ships Manifest
A list of crew and passenegers arrived Sydney, Austraila in Melanope, Mar. 1901

On arrival in Sydney, a couple of shipmates slipped ashore without awaiting formal shore leave. They made for the nearest waterfront pub, where they spent some time "splicing the main brace.” Newlywed Mrs. Robinson happened to catch sight of them weaving along the dock, returning to the ship. For the first time, she learned the meaning of the phrase, "three sheets in the wind.” 
"You can tell by their rolling motion that they are true sons of the ocean.” she quipped to her husband.
The Melanope then set sail for Honolulu and then returned to San Francisco via Newcastle.
On the return trip, the Melanope, on August 1, 1901 was caught in an extremely heavy gale, during which wind blew from all points of the compass. 
Suddenly, the winds died out, and the Melanope drifted in a dead calm. A thick eerie fog fell over them, and Captain Robinson could barely see a few feet in front of his face. Sailors on deck swore they saw the ghost of Miss Taylor swirling in the mist and become anxious.
The moment was tense, blown off course by the gale, they had no way of determining their exact position in the thick fog. Like a death knell, the ships bell chimed away alerting others of the Melanope's position, and the sailors shuddered as they whispered amongst each other about her cursed past.
But ol "cappy" Robinson, was sure of his ship, and his skills as a mariner. He reminded the crew that the Bear flag still flew on the mizzen, and the ol' Bear --- the symbol of a protector would keep the ship safe. 
A whisp of breeze began to flow, and the fog partially dissipated, the forward look out could see a dark shape looming ominously dead ahead. "Land ho!" was the cry, and it rang down the deck to the poop.
"Cappy" Robinson knew what lie ahead. It was the Farrallon Islands, and he wasn't the first to be surprised by them in the fog. The islands were long known by the aboriginals living in the area before European settlement as the "Islands Of The Dead." It's nickname amongst the sailors, was the "Devil's Teeth." The rocky outcroppings are the site of more than three hundred shipwrecks over the years. A ship graveyard, the waters surrounding the jagged and rocky islands are inhabited by a large population of Great White sharks. 
Farrallon Islands
The Farrallon Islands through the fog. 
They have the nicknames "Devil's Teeth" and "Islands Of Dead"
The Melanope was only two hundred yards away from the craggy shoreline, and headed for disaster, but in the light air she was barely moving. Captain Robinson, shouted out in his "Quaterdeck Voice" - "Wear her around Mr. Jobson!" The crew hauled around the yards, and braced them up sharp. The ship slowly veered away from the danger that lie ahead, and pointed for the Golden Gate. The Melanope successfully completed her first round voyage for her new owners J.J. Moore and co.
She left San Francisco for Adelaide, South Australia on October 23, 1901 in a strong south-easterly gale. Not long into the voyage, the Melanope was partially dismasted, losing her topsails and foresail, and labored very heavily.
She experience further difficulties when her maintopsail yard parted and the foretopsail-yard had to be sent down to take the place of the damaged one. Norfolk Island was made on December 7, and thence heavy and squally weather and continual gales harassed the Melanope until December 21 and played havoc with the sails.
Still more heavy weather was experienced, and the seas tore the tarpaulins off the hatches, shifting the deck load, filling the deckhouses, and the enormous seas surged over the poop, and swamped the saloon and officers' rooms and pantry.
All hands had subsequently to be employed sail making, as all her sails had been damaged and torn by the violent winds. During the heavy gales the barque was hove to and oilbags were used to stabilize her in the rolling pitch with great success. On December 26 the wind got away to the north, and the vessel stood south to make Cape Howe. About that time, thick choking smoke was seen billowing over the land, eventually blotting out the sun, and things became hazy.  
Subsequently the wind fell light and the sea became smooth. The air was insufferable and stifling hot from bush fires and the smoke made it hard to breathe. It seemed as though the Melanope had sailed right into the depths of Dante's inferno.
Australian Brush fire
A picture of an Australian brush fire in 2013.
Photo by Ian Stewart
Stormy squalls succeeded and developed into a south-west gale. On December 31 the Melanope passed the Tacoora, bound east, and on January 1 another gale of wind
was blowing. On January 3 it was squally, but after sighting the Neptunes the much worried craft got leading winds, though, to keep up the average, she made the anchorage in half a gale.
While in Adelaide, Mrs. Robinson gave birth to a baby boy. "Cappy" Robinson, his newborn son, and Mrs. Robinson then set sail  in the Melanope for Newcastle to pick up a load of coal.
The return trip was filled with gales, squalls and near hurricane force winds. On the return the Melanope was 85 days from Newcastle and overdue. Captain Robinson reported that five days out on April 26, 1902 the bark had begun to have difficulty in heavy seas and southerly gales. Then began a myriad of problems: a suit of sails were blown away, the foretopmast stays parted, and she was again partially dismasted with four chain plates, sixty feet of the port main railing wrecked and other damage inflicted about the deck. The tremendous seas flooded the cabins, the storeroom was filled with sea water and the ship's stores ruined, and a starboard boat was wrecked. 
The Melanope came into the port of San Francisco with the bear flag still flung to the breeze from the mizzen mast. 
This was to be Captain Robinson's last trip on the Melanope, his wife with her newborn son encouraged him to take command of smaller "coasters" that kept him close to home. He accepted the position of Ship Master for San Francisco Bay, and was well liked and respected for many years to come.
The Melanope though, held a special place in the Robinsons' hearts. He always saw the ship a capable sailor and shrugged off her curses. The Robinsons even named their beloved Mill Valley home at 123 Edgewood Ave, the Melanope.
In October, 1902 N.K. Wills took over has commander of the Melanope. Over the next few years he carried a variety of cargo, inclduing cases of salmon, lumber and coal from the west coast to Australia.
Captain Nicolas K. Wills and his wife, like Leighton Robinson, was also from Cornwall. His family sailed out of Newlyn, near the town of  Penzance, and his wife was the daughter of Captain Charles Nicholls, who was well known along that coast at the time.
Captain Wills started his sea career as a cabin boy aboard his father's fishing smack at the age of eleven and continued on active marine service. His father being Captain John Wills.  
For many years, Captain N.K. Wills sailed under the Beaudin Steamship Company as master of the S.S. Arab and then went into the Pacific Trade for the Robert Dollar Company. He also had been master of another clipper, the Two Brothers.
Captain Wills, was very proud of the Melanope, and thought she was a very capable sailor. In those days, it was usual for his captain and his family to travel aboard the ship. Capt. Wills was no different, and he brought his wife and family, and his two children, Charlie and May aboard.
At first things to seem to go well, and Wills made his first successful round-trip voyage to Newcastle. But the curse of the Melanope was to strike again!
When the ship was lying in San Francisco at the Adams Street wharf on May 17, 1903, the chief steward, Alfred Craine was taking his shore leave, along with one of the cabin boys. That Saturday night the pair visited several of the local establishments and resorts, imbibing in spirits and ale. Just after last call, the steward returned to the Melanope alone, and at 1:30 A.M. the wharf watchman, Louis La Rue, watched him attempt to board the Melanope by way of a narrow gangway plank. The steward, intoxicated, stumbled, and fell into the depths.
The alarm was raised, and the ship's crew under the direction of Captain Wills tried to save the man. But before they could arrive on deck, he had sank from sight. A boat was eventually lowered, and the crew seached the estuary all night long for the hapless sailor. Later that morning, they eventually recovered his body. Mr. Craine, was 35 years of age, and had been aboard the Melanope for about a year. 
The incident left the sailors on edge and the rumours and legends of her curse grew amongst them. At the beginning of September, the ship then set sail from Port Blakely, stopping in Port Townsend for a load of Lumber, to take to Cape Town. 
She left Port Townsend on Sept. 9th,  and was about 50 days out, when off Cape Horn, the helmsman during the wee hours of the morning made a navigational error, and had steered the ship off course, bringing it dangerously close to disaster. Captain Wills berated his negligent helmsman, and the helmsman responded by claiming that it wasn't his fault, he blamed the "cursed" ship and that he had been led astray by "ghosts". He emphasized to his shipmates that they were all on a cursed ship, a ship of misfortunate - doomed.
The Captain would have none of it, and ordered the man flogged and put into irons. At first, the ships officers relunctantly refused the order,  but eventually the sailor was locked up in irons.
The fearful and superstition seaman one by one refused duty. The captain along with the carpenter, the cook, the steward, and two apprentices armed with revolvers and clubs, subdued the unruly mob.  
Percy Everitt, later recalled, "That trip was memorable for the mutiny we had on board. With the rest of the crew in irons, the afterguard --the chippy, sailmaiker another A.B. and myself -- worked the ship for a week."
The skeleton crew worked the ship and the Melanope trekked the remainder of the 5,000 miles across the South Atlantic in just 19 days. This journey from Puget Sound to Cape Town was a record of 72 days, which may still stand today,  and Captain Wills was justly proud of performance of the Melanope.
In Cape Town, Captain Wills handed over his mutineers into police custody, and they were returned to the ship a day before she sailed to Australia. They were discharged in Australia owing the ship money, for the forthright Captain Wills charged each sailor with the wages paid the men he had to hireto do their work while the vessel was in port in Cape Town.
Even the mates did not get away entirely free. Captain Wills felt they were partly to blame for inciting the sailors by encouraging the rumours of the cursed ship rather than dispelling them. He let them all go with the ominous "decline to report" on their discharge papers.
Charlie Wills of Vancouver, son of Captain N.K. Wills, had vivid memories of the Melanope as his home. He said, "Dad never felt the ship was cursed or a ship of misfortunte. He was very proud of the Melanope with her clean sailing lines, and her great turn of speed. The record she established between Puget Sound and Cape Town has never been equalled."
Things went well for the next couple years, The ship made several succesfuly voyages between Australia, San Francisco, Puget Sound, Mexico and Hawaii. In 1904, Wills had the ship quarantined and fumigated for a rat infestation in the hold, and kept her in ship-shape condition.
At the beginning of December 1906, the ship had just returned from a voyage from Eureka, to Manzanillo, Mexico where they delivered California Redwood lumber ties. The start of that voyage began with a fowled anchor. She then returned to San Francisco, took on fresh water and supplies and headed for Eureka, and then planned to go to Puget Sound for a lumber run. 
On December 5th, the Melanope left Eureka in sand ballast and was headed up the coast for Tacoma. They were towed out by steam tug from Huboldt Bay, and sailed up to the Columbia River Bar, and was stuck in a eerie calm drifting off the bar until sunset.  A breeze then sprung up that Thursday morning, and continued to freshen into a gale. By that afternoon, the winds were blowing with terrific force, and the sea was pounding the Melanope with mountain sized waves. The wind continued to freshen into hurricane force, and the barque was hove to. For a few hours, the Melanope was pounded with wave after wave, her decks were awash.
Pitching and rolling in the tremendous seas, a rogue wave hit her hard on the beam, and the ballast shifted in the hold. The Melanope shuddered from the force of the impact, and capsized onto her beam ends, although she came up a little, the cargo had her listing dangerously. With every roll and pitch, water poured into her hold.
In an effort to get her trimmed upright, all hands went below in an effort to shift the ballast, or at least balance her. After several frustating hours, the  efforts were in vain, and Captain Wills gave the order to cut away the top of the main mast. It did not go well, the main mast top came crashing down through the decks, creating a six foot gaping hole on the lee side. She began to fill with sea water fast, in a frantic effort to prevent the rapid inflow of water, half of the crew worked to fasten a  tarpaulin out of the topsail to cover the hole. The other half worked to clear away the tangled lines and wreckage that was dragging the ship down. The wind by now was raging at hurricane force, and the Melanope was slowly foundering. After several hours, the crew, the captain, his wife and children, all exhausted, cold and wet, eventually climbed into the rigging to rest, and hoped that the winds would abate.
But the storm prevailed, and at 4.a.m Friday morning exhausted, cold and wet suffering from effects of hypothermia, on a sinking ship, Captain Wills finally gave the order to abandon her. They climbed into the last remaining remaining undamaged lifeboat. With some difficulty, they were able to get the boat launched, and with the utmost difficulty, Mrs. Wills was lowered down a line into the boat, with the children, then the crew, and finally the captain. For a few brief moments, Captain Wills stood at the poop, looking to sight a friendly ship, and a chance of rescue.  Also on board the ship was three dogs that had to be left behind. As Wills reluctantly left the ship, he left food and water behind in the captains quarters for his little dog, "Queenie".
With a heavy hearts, those twenty-two brave souls cast out in to the raging sea. They watched as the Melanope quickly drifted away from sight, and they could barely see if she was still afloat losing her in the dark treacherous waves. For many hours, the lifeboat pitched and rolled and was nearly swallowed up int he storm, until the schooner W.H. Smith came upon them and they were rescued. 
The Melanope adrift, eventually grounded on the Cape Blanco shoals, outside the Columbia River bar. The steam tug Northland, eventually pumped the water out, refloated her and towed her into Austoria.
Melanope - Cape Blanco
The Melanope under tow  from the tug Northland at the
Columbia River Bar
The Melanope then again became the subject of litigation, the captain and crew of the Northland, together with the owners of the boat suggested that the Melanope, had been abandoned by it's captain and crew. By being abandoned, and the landing of an American crew, this legally placed her under American registry and ownership, and it was theirs to rightfully salvage.  
They valued  the salvage of the Melanope as having a total value of $65,000. Contracts of the Melanope were called for and it was found that she could be put into ship-shape condition and repaired for a sum of $30,000.
The fact that Melanope was picked up abandoned was considered by all shipping men as the best kind of grounds for salvage. The owners of the Northland, claiming she was derelict, expected that it would fetch a nice prize.
However, J.J.Moore and Co, contested the right of the Northland to salvage the Melanope based on the fact that she was under British registry and therefore fell under British naval law. Under those laws, "Queenie" and the two other dogs left aboard was considered enough to maintain possession. J.J. Moore and Co., based their claim upon the decision of British courts, whereby, early in 1800 a small kitten was left aboard an abandoned ship and that was suffeciant to prove possesion.
The case was one of the most peculiar in Pacfic coast history. In the end, J.J. Moore proved their case and Capt. Wills was reinstated as captain.  But it was to be her last trip as a sailing clipper. 
She was bought by James Griffiths and Co of Seattle, who purchased a number of old clipper ships in 1908 for barge conversions. She was in the company of Charger, Argus, Quatsino, Haydn Brown, America, St. James, St. David, James Drummon, Big Bonaza, Palmsyra, and Cartondelet.
The Melanope was sent to drydock in Esquimalt, repaired and then served as a coal tender. She plodded about Puget Sound until about 1910.
In July of 1910, Capt. and Mrs. Walter Tinns who had been placed in charge of the barge had asked to be transferred off the ship. It is said, that Mrs. Tinn reported finding it unpleasant to live on a ship manned by a ghost.
The barge was then sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway and brought to Vancouver.  She carried coal for thirty-six years, first for the "little white" Empresses of China, Japan and India, and then for the ships Empresses of Asia and Russia
Melanope Beside the Empress of Russia
The Melanope as a coal barge alongside the Empress Of Russia
Melanope with Empress pf Asoa
Melanope with the Empress of Asia
She bustled from Vancouver to Ladysmith sometimes loaded with coal for the Princess Fleet. Occasionally, she would haul other goods, like rock or lumber. Her tugs were generally the Qualicum and Nanoose, which were captained by Gwilliam Williams and "Foggy" Anderson. She was often anchored in the harbour off Deadman's Island and midway between Piers A and B in Vancouver Harbour. 
During her coal carrying years, a man named Peter Farrel lived aboard the Melanope for a period of time. He had been previously been an officer of the Empress ships. One day, while doing spring cleaning on the Melanope, they were getting rid of an old frayed armchair which had been in the captain's quarters for some time. As they lifted the chair out onto the deck, the sun caught something gold and glimmering in the rays. From the inside of the chair fell a necklace, they beleive that it was part of Elma Mabel Taylor's jewelry. Captain Farrel's daughter out in North Vancouver had the piece for many years.
The Melanope was then towed in 1946 to Comox, when she was sold by the Canadian Pacific Railway to the Comox Logging and Railway Company for their Royston operations. She was sunk as part of a breakwater, and is half buried in a "ghost ship" graveyard. The bow and stern of the Melanope can be easily seen from shore, her back broken, and filled with stone.
Slowly, she decomposes into the ocean, a rusty skeleton, and a silent monument to those great days of sail. Many ship-lovers and marine historians still ponder about the past of this fine old bark, and the mysteries and tales she still holds.
They may have heard of her legendary curse or of her fleet-footed speed records. Some say, that when the wind blows just right, in the light of the full moon, you can still hear the music of the lively pianoforte, and the ghostly shadows of her former captain and his mistress dancing on the decks.
Melanope - Ship Graveyard - Royston
The bow of the Melanope at Royston.
Melanope - Royston Wreck
Melanope at Royston